What sounds like an overexcited pitch for joining a cult is actually something that has been researched, evidenced, proven and proven again. We are all able to achieve happiness – and that’s true, lasting, happiness – by putting our money away and dedicating some time to building our confidence and self-belief. As much as profit-driven companies and their marketing teams would like to convince us that our confidence and self-worth is tied up in smoother skin, fuller lips, better hair or basically anything that involves parting with cash, self-confidence is something that doesn’t and shouldn’t cost a penny. It’s also one of the few things that can enable us to achieve genuine, lasting happiness.
There is a BIG link between confidence and achieving a positive state of mental wellbeing that supports happiness. Self-confidence, self-esteem, and mental health are so connected that Mind, the UK mental health charity list “feeling relatively confident in yourself and having positive self-esteem” at the top of their list of indicators for good mental wellbeing. To explain this important link in more detail, it is helpful to know exactly what is meant by the words “happiness”, ‘wellbeing’, ‘confidence’ and ‘self-esteem’. How can you know what to aim for, if you can’t see or understand it?
Happiness can be described as simply “feeling good – enjoying life and feeling it is wonderful.” The opposite feeling, unhappiness is therefore “feeling bad and wishing things were different” (Layard quoted in in Jeffries, 2008, Guardian)
Wellbeing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy”
Confidence is a belief in yourself, knowing that you have the ability to meet life's challenges and succeed—and acting in a way that expresses that belief. Being confident requires having a realistic sense of your capabilities and feeling secure in that knowledge (Psychology Today)
Self-esteem “refers to a person's overall sense of his or her value or worth. It can be considered a sort of measure of how much a person “values, approves of, appreciates, prizes, or likes him or herself” (Adler & Stewart, 2004).
What these definitions show is that wellbeing and happiness are clearly intertwined. And although confidence and self-esteem are slightly different concepts, in general they can be used to describe overall feelings of being secure, comfortable and accepting of yourself and your abilities in the present moment - not “when I can do/ achieve/ be this, then I’ll be confident”.
Self-esteem has been found to be the most dominant and powerful predictor of happiness (Furnham and Cheng, 2000). So taking steps to build this self-esteem is one of the most important things you can do to improve your mental health or wellbeing. A person could spend hours a day taking practical steps to increase their mental wellbeing – settling down to some meditation, practicing yoga, mindfulness and exercising. But, if they have poor self-esteem, then they’re still more likely to suffer from anxiety or other depressive disorders (Seligman et al, 1995).
There is a huge body of research that shows how our mental health is negatively affected by poor confidence. Low confidence or self-esteem has been correlated with increased anxiety or depression; lower levels of achievement; and increased recovery time from illness. On the other hand, “positive self-esteem is associated with mental well-being, adjustment, happiness, success and satisfaction. It is also associated with recovery after severe diseases” (Mann et al, 2004).
But, if you know that you’re not confident or have low self-esteem, how can you start taking steps towards improving this?
Reading this article is a great place to start changing this, and your first step in the right direction.
Our human brains like things to stay the same and our minds associate familiarity with safety. It’s why we get so thrown off if we have to negotiate a diversion on a familiar driving route; or get annoyed if we’ve run out of the porridge oats that we expect to eat every day at breakfast; or feel anxious at events when we hear the words “pair up with someone you’ve not spoken to”. These are all unfamiliar situations that our brain can’t automatically deal with: it
has to work harder to process a situation that it could normally cruise through on autopilot, which uses up more brain power and energy. This “automatic functioning” requires “little effort on our part as a Human to think” (Peters, 2012). ‘Little effort’ means we consume less energy, and is something our brain still thinks it needs to do like it had to thousands of years ago when food was scarce. This subconsciously guides us to stick to the familiar in order to save glucose and energy for when it’s really needed: something that’s actually not necessary for the majority of us who can get hold of the food and drink we need whenever we need it.
So if you’ve felt like you’ve lacked confidence for as long as you can remember, this is actually just a mental state that is really familiar to you. It’s currently an easier, safer and ultimately more energy-preserving state for you brain to remain in than being confident is.
Starting to learn new information that can interrupt this kind of familiar thought-pattern is a first, vital step towards changing your less-confident state.
We know that we are capable of moving through different mental states at different times. Most of us run through feeling annoyed, excited, happy, sad, guilty etc. on a daily basis. We also know that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps change the ways we think and behave, can be as effective as medicine for changing the mental states of people suffering from anxiety and depression (NHS, 2020). CBT equips people with the tools they need to change their maladaptive cognitive and behavioural patterns (Fenn, and Byrne, 2013). So if this practice of changing our thought and behavioural patterns has been proven to effectively help people overcome clinically-diagnosed diseases like depression, it can certainly be used to help with other mental states… like not feeling confident and/ or having low self-esteem.
The very fact you have read this article means that you now have fed your brain with new information to challenge it’s routine, familiar state. Knowing that a lack of confidence or low self-esteem is something that can be changed is your first step towards developing the self-esteem that will support you in becoming your happiest, most confident self.
What you don’t know won’t change you. What you choose to discover powers your understanding of new and unfamiliar concepts that can change your perception.